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Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste

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From the chief architect of the Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project comes a definitive and groundbreaking examination of how your mind, body, and upbringing influence the music you love. Everyone loves music. But what is it that makes music so universally beloved and have such a powerful effect on us? In this sweeping and authoritative book, Dr. Nolan Gasser―a composer, pia From the chief architect of the Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project comes a definitive and groundbreaking examination of how your mind, body, and upbringing influence the music you love. Everyone loves music. But what is it that makes music so universally beloved and have such a powerful effect on us? In this sweeping and authoritative book, Dr. Nolan Gasser―a composer, pianist, and musicologist, and the chief architect of the Music Genome Project, which powers Pandora Radio―breaks down what musical taste is, where it comes from, and what our favorite songs say about us. Dr. Gasser delves into the science, psychology, and sociology that explains why humans love music so much; how our brains process music; and why you may love Queen but your best friend loves Kiss. He sheds light on why babies can clap along to rhythmic patterns and reveals the reason behind why different cultures across the globe identify the same kinds of music as happy, sad, or scary. Using easy-to-follow notated musical scores, Dr. Gasser teaches music fans how to become engaged listeners and provides them with the tools to enhance their musical preferences. He takes readers under the hood of their favorite genres―pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, electronica, world music, and classical―and covers songs from Taylor Swift to Led Zeppelin to Kendrick Lamar to Bill Evans to Beethoven―and through their work, introduces the musical concepts behind why you hum along, tap your foot, and feel deeply. Why You Like It will teach you how to follow the musical discourse happening within a song and thereby empower your musical taste, so you will never hear music the same way again.


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From the chief architect of the Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project comes a definitive and groundbreaking examination of how your mind, body, and upbringing influence the music you love. Everyone loves music. But what is it that makes music so universally beloved and have such a powerful effect on us? In this sweeping and authoritative book, Dr. Nolan Gasser―a composer, pia From the chief architect of the Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project comes a definitive and groundbreaking examination of how your mind, body, and upbringing influence the music you love. Everyone loves music. But what is it that makes music so universally beloved and have such a powerful effect on us? In this sweeping and authoritative book, Dr. Nolan Gasser―a composer, pianist, and musicologist, and the chief architect of the Music Genome Project, which powers Pandora Radio―breaks down what musical taste is, where it comes from, and what our favorite songs say about us. Dr. Gasser delves into the science, psychology, and sociology that explains why humans love music so much; how our brains process music; and why you may love Queen but your best friend loves Kiss. He sheds light on why babies can clap along to rhythmic patterns and reveals the reason behind why different cultures across the globe identify the same kinds of music as happy, sad, or scary. Using easy-to-follow notated musical scores, Dr. Gasser teaches music fans how to become engaged listeners and provides them with the tools to enhance their musical preferences. He takes readers under the hood of their favorite genres―pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, electronica, world music, and classical―and covers songs from Taylor Swift to Led Zeppelin to Kendrick Lamar to Bill Evans to Beethoven―and through their work, introduces the musical concepts behind why you hum along, tap your foot, and feel deeply. Why You Like It will teach you how to follow the musical discourse happening within a song and thereby empower your musical taste, so you will never hear music the same way again.

30 review for Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Hatch

    6.5/10 If Gasser had actually written the book he outlines at the beginning this might be one of my favorite books ever. As the primary architect of the music genome project, he states that his intentions are to write a pretty relatable dive into music structure and why people have certain affinity for various songs and genres. The portion describing the history of Pandora and his role creating it's musical taste database is fascinating. However, once he moves into music structure and how to clas 6.5/10 If Gasser had actually written the book he outlines at the beginning this might be one of my favorite books ever. As the primary architect of the music genome project, he states that his intentions are to write a pretty relatable dive into music structure and why people have certain affinity for various songs and genres. The portion describing the history of Pandora and his role creating it's musical taste database is fascinating. However, once he moves into music structure and how to classify it, Gasser just can't help himself. As the type of analytic person to develop his music genome project, he can't summarize. He starts in on a topic and has to tell you everything he knows about it. What is supposed to be an overview that someone without any music background can follow, becomes a deep dive into music theory. I have a bit of music background, having played piano for four years and having sung in a choir in high school; and I found myself completely lost at times. It didn't help that the website that is supposed to contain music clips and extra material doesn't really work. I'm glad I read this and there were a lot of absolutely fascinating portions, but a good editor should have sat down with Gasser and explained that in order to reach a broader audience, he needed to make the book he'd described in the first chapter.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alexis

    If your book is so boring that every chapter has a disclaimer about it being a boring bit to slog through before a payoff, perhaps you should rethink your writing strategy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Wagner

    I first heard of Nolan Gasser during a work commute listen to NPR's "All Things Considered". He was being interviewed about this book, and was introduced as "chief musicologist and architect of Pandora Radio's Music Genome Project". Now, I've been using Pandora for years and years. From season to season it remembers my favorite Christmas music, my favorite sassy Beyonce-inspired jams, and my favorite Southern-soul rock jams. I remember a specific moment using Pandora during which it threw a Blac I first heard of Nolan Gasser during a work commute listen to NPR's "All Things Considered". He was being interviewed about this book, and was introduced as "chief musicologist and architect of Pandora Radio's Music Genome Project". Now, I've been using Pandora for years and years. From season to season it remembers my favorite Christmas music, my favorite sassy Beyonce-inspired jams, and my favorite Southern-soul rock jams. I remember a specific moment using Pandora during which it threw a Black Keys number on my Neptunes/Jay-Z station. The song had the same energy I was going for, and a groove deep enough to break your stiletto heel. I have really eclectic taste, and I was so impressed and pleasantly surprised that it guessed right. I think I made a Facebook post about it including multiple exclamation points. On this NPR interview with Nolan Gasser, he nonchalantly explained how if you like "Money" by Pink Floyd, you'd probably like Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" because it's got an unusual rhythmic meter that sort of surprises and delights your ear (if you're into that sort of thing). (!) If you like "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by The Rolling Stones, you might like "Spring" from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, because it's got a similar back-and-forth, rocking sort of repeating chord change. These tidbits of information burned themselves into my brain forever. Genre-wise, you'd never put these pairs of songs together, but in reality people aren't locked in to genres, and I have favorites from just about every commercial genre out there. I wanted to read this book SO BADLY. I wanted more of these revelatory gems. They caused me to hear these beloved songs a little differently, think about them more insightfully. When my local library finally let me know that this book was available to borrow, I was so excited. When I saw the massive size of this tome (600+ pages), I became even more excited. The book itself -- whew. It read like a college textbook. This isn't a good thing. It's DENSE. Instead of providing more mind-blowing inductive examples of how Pandora's Music Genome reasons, thus leading to a deeper appreciation for music and its mechanics, this book spent hundreds and hundreds of pages on lay music theory and history, deducing only gradually some of the real-life applications a music lover might be able to take advantage of to discover new favorites. The entire introductory section of this book talks about the author's biography and resume, as well as the early years of Pandora. Let me tell you something. If I had been on the developmental editorial team for this book, I would have chopped it. By hundreds of pages. I have a lot of affection for the author, and think he's a genius, but wanted to scream at this book numerous times, "Don't bore us, get to the chorus!" and/or, "Shut up and rock!" I do want to know more about what the adult, musicologist Nolan Gasser has to say about his youthful fight with his pal over whether Kiss or Queen is the best rock band, but I don't want to know all about the financial woes of early Pandora and how they couldn't pay their employees at times. The Why You Like It website was something I pulled up on my smartphone CONSTANTLY in order to get through this book. Musical examples are shown in figures throughout the text, printed in musical notation that I can't read. The website is helpful not only because it provides playable files for each individual figure, but also because it provides links to Pandora playlists so you can hear songs in their entirety. Even this isn't perfect, though, and a few of the figures annoyingly link to the wrong clips. I do feel as if I learned a lot, and will listen in my favorite music for musicological features of which I wasn't previously aware. BUT STILL. Immersion is the best way to learn a new language, and this book uses too much theory and not enough application, in my opinion. I struggled through this book, but because of my enthusiasm for the subject I still managed to enjoy it. It didn't deliver on my expectations, but I can't rate it less than three stars. It just had too much knowledge in it, and I lap that stuff up like nectar.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    ' We tend to take too much of our musical taste for granted. But it is not to be taken for granted that the laws of physics and mathematics stipulate that steady frequencies produce overtones that align in perfect proportions, stacking up to produce intervals that comprise major, minor, and dominant 7th chords. It is not to be taken for granted that we humans evolved a capacity to hear individual tones across a wide bandwidth of frequencies, to discern octaves, fifths, and triads as pleasing ent ' We tend to take too much of our musical taste for granted. But it is not to be taken for granted that the laws of physics and mathematics stipulate that steady frequencies produce overtones that align in perfect proportions, stacking up to produce intervals that comprise major, minor, and dominant 7th chords. It is not to be taken for granted that we humans evolved a capacity to hear individual tones across a wide bandwidth of frequencies, to discern octaves, fifths, and triads as pleasing entities, or to experience music as a viable means to communicate meaning, emotion, and social bonding. It is not to be taken for granted that our brains developed an ability to perceive, process, and remember complex patterns of pitch and rhythm, and to forge them into rich and distinct syntaxes marked by specific pitch distributions, rhythmic grouping, and repetitive schema. It is not to be taken for granted that based on where we are born and raised, we are given access to broad traditions of music that, whether we like them or not, are heard and experienced as 'home', with rules and tendencies we can understand, explore, and cultivate. And it is not to be taken for granted that the classes, social circles, and intracultures we travel in seed in us the candidates of our individual musical taste. Much, that is, had to happen before our psychology - our personality and individual identity - could ever be in a position to deliberate between two Beatles songs, or any other musical exemplars you can think of. They are all part of the miracle of music: why mere frequency and rhythm should carry such resonance within us, and why our individuality could shape on our behalf a unique and fully personal musical taste. It is something not to take for granted, but rather something to resoundingly celebrate, to explore, and to take as seriously - and joyfully - as we can.'

  5. 5 out of 5

    Carol Tilley

    Best for someone with at least some perfunctory musical understanding (e.g. the ability to read music), but immensely informative and thoughtful.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Vicki

    Despite my rating, I actually really like the musical learning I gleaned from this book. As an (extremely amature) musician myself, I read music and enjoy it but I didn't understand much music theory. This gave me a good overview of those concepts, and how to look at music as the sum of it's parts, allowing you to notice commonalities between pieces/songs that otherwise wouldn't be obvious. And, even if you don't read music, the companion website provides samples for the examples in the book so Despite my rating, I actually really like the musical learning I gleaned from this book. As an (extremely amature) musician myself, I read music and enjoy it but I didn't understand much music theory. This gave me a good overview of those concepts, and how to look at music as the sum of it's parts, allowing you to notice commonalities between pieces/songs that otherwise wouldn't be obvious. And, even if you don't read music, the companion website provides samples for the examples in the book so you can hear what is being presented as you go along. So why not 4 or 5 stars? Well, the reader needs to be dedicated to get through this. Gasser set out to help the general public understand their musical taste better, but I can't see the general public picking this book up, which is a shame really. He knows his topic extremely well, but because he wants to cover as much as possible regarding music, he is prone to tangents and side discussions that can go for multiple pages and distract from the main premise, and that makes this dense, long book even denser and longer. I also see a lot of what I would call "defensive writing" in the interlude chapters. This involves explaining theories in detail, even if they aren't aligned with current thinking, seemingly just to make it clear that he did his research, and then backing away from it and explaining why some other theory is better. I felt like he could have clarified and streamlined the book a bit by glossing over the older, outdated theories and emphasising which direction he believed was correct more upfront. In the end, I am still thinking about this book and it's concepts as I listen to music in my day to day life, so for me this book is a success. If you have the patience to sit with the content and really take the time to digest it, I think it might be for you too.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Paul moved to LibraryThing

    Self indulgent to an extreme. I can see why. Imagine you had a big CD collection you love and someone paid you to arrange your collection in different ways. And then you get to write a book about it! That was more or less his job at Pandora. Maybe this kind of life changes you. Much like chess playing programs and other expert systems his decades of work has been superseded by machine learning which can now do this at scale and infinitely better. Must suck. But not as much as this book. To be hon Self indulgent to an extreme. I can see why. Imagine you had a big CD collection you love and someone paid you to arrange your collection in different ways. And then you get to write a book about it! That was more or less his job at Pandora. Maybe this kind of life changes you. Much like chess playing programs and other expert systems his decades of work has been superseded by machine learning which can now do this at scale and infinitely better. Must suck. But not as much as this book. To be honest I assumed Pandora music was dead, so after reading this I visited the website but apparently it's just limited to America. In between the biographical chapters and his never ending musical criticism there's maybe a short 200 page book on the topic from the cover. Unfortunately it's hidden in a War and Peace sized one. There's no other explanation than self-indulgence. My least favourite bit was the excruciatingly long music criticism section where he imagines 5 different music listeners (all presumably his alter egos) and goes on to analyse their exquisite and wide ranging tastes by writing about the tracks. First of all that is ridiculous and pointless but if you really want to do it why not pick real people with their real selection not your bullshit eclectic picks. Of course then there's the long chapter where he builds an outlandish "sciency" sounding analogy that he then proceeds to do nothing with. You've build up this ridiculous contraption, would you like to use it to reveal some relationship, process or anything. No? OK. In between all this is stuff you'd read in some primary school textbook. Did you know Stravinsky was gay? No way! And Mozzart, get his, went deaf. I know, he was a composer, right? Seriously who is this book for? The author is constantly plugging his website but this book was boring enough.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mariana

    I loved this book, probably because I had been waiting for someone to answer exactly that question: why do I like that song in particular? Is it because it’s in A minor? The chord progression? The singer’s voice? The bass line? I read John Powell’s How Music Works some years ago, but somewhat felt short of explaining everything. Nolan Gasser provides a thorough and detailed explanation of the science behind music, citing authors and research and giving examples of music works and artists as he go I loved this book, probably because I had been waiting for someone to answer exactly that question: why do I like that song in particular? Is it because it’s in A minor? The chord progression? The singer’s voice? The bass line? I read John Powell’s How Music Works some years ago, but somewhat felt short of explaining everything. Nolan Gasser provides a thorough and detailed explanation of the science behind music, citing authors and research and giving examples of music works and artists as he goes. He also analyses five musical works for each style (genotype), using both well-known works and less known pieces. His encyclopedic knowledge offers context to every point he makes. He organized the book mixing strictly musical chapters (music theory and song analysis) and science chapters (anthropology, physics, neuroscience, biology, culture, psychology). I must admit that the biology chapter (Interlude D) felt like a bit of a stretch, but then again, maybe it’s because I don’t like biology very much. The book contains the links to a web page where you can hear the music fragments used in the examples. You’ll enjoy this book more if • You are a music lover • You are analytical and curious enough to learn about seemingly unrelated topics • You have basic knowledge of how to play an instrument and read music (as in you learned this as a child) • You are not afraid of long books! Still not sure if this book is for you? Check his TEDx talk, if you’re curious for more, read the book! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3wzS...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Riegs

    **I received my copy through the publisher in Goodreads Giveaways.** Super well researched and broad in scope, but hard to recommend for a casual reader. This feels more like a tome for a music theory major than a pop neuroscience book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Taffner

    Glasser says at the beginning that he wanted to write a big book on music and he succeeded. Problem is, there is only enough interesting stuff in it to make a regular sized one.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    This is a topic I am fascinated by, and although I have a modicum of musical knowledge from piano lessons, school band, and community choir, I have never studied music theory. This looked like exactly the right book to describe in layman's terms why I loved John Denver when I was in high school, but a good friend preferred Elton John, and those weird kids in French class were obsessed with Kiss. An additional layer of anticipatory excitement was added when I got my hands on the audio version-- i This is a topic I am fascinated by, and although I have a modicum of musical knowledge from piano lessons, school band, and community choir, I have never studied music theory. This looked like exactly the right book to describe in layman's terms why I loved John Denver when I was in high school, but a good friend preferred Elton John, and those weird kids in French class were obsessed with Kiss. An additional layer of anticipatory excitement was added when I got my hands on the audio version-- instead of just looking at musical notation on a page, I was going to hear all the examples! When I started listening, I was even more excited to find out that the author was instrumental in the design of the listening algorithm for Pandora, of which I am a fan. It didn't take long before my excitement turned to that same rock-in-the-gut feeling I had when I realized I had accidentally done too well on my advanced placement tests for undergraduate French class, and found myself in a room where I had no idea what was being said. Near the beginning, he cautions the reader that they might find the early chapters on music theory and the history of music rough going, but he sprinkles in pep talks, and congratulates you for making it through when he's at the end of that section. Then he launches into the science of sound and physiology of the ear, followed by the neuroscience angle of listening to music. Gee, thanks for the breather. Just when he was finally getting to the good stuff-- specific examples of what seemingly unrelated songs might have in common in the pop genre, he segues into an extended metaphor about cell division, which I'm still trying to figure out. Ultimately, it was the last few chapters that I enjoyed the most. Heck, if he'd mentioned in the preface that he was a dedicated Dr. Demento listener as a kid, I would have had a more forgiving attitude through all the music theory and science, but he saved that tidbit for near the end. The single most interesting fact in the book for me is the number of thumbs-upped songs of the average “highly active” Pandora listener-- just under 500. This fact is in the last chapter, so I feel like I really earned that knowledge, having made it through about 700 pages to get to it. An immense amount of work obviously went into writing this book, and a person with zero musical background could learn a lot from it, if that person had a great deal of tenacity and patience. I think I would have enjoyed-- in my undergraduate days-- taking a course for which this book was the text. Lectures could provide context, and having the material spread out over a few months would be helpful, I think. Of course, the book couldn't have existed then, as neither Pandora, the music genome project, or indeed, the internet, existed. If you really want to master this material, I would suggest acquiring both the audio version and the ebook, supplementing both with the website the author created for the book. And take it slow. As for me, I'm going back to the tried and true method of quantifying musical taste, courtesy of American Bandstand. “It's got a good beat, and you can dance to it. I'll give it a 91.” If you want a more modern method, and this book has defeated you, borrow Facebook's relationship status-- “It's complicated”-- and leave it at that. TL;DR: It's good, but challenging. If nothing else, skip to the last chapter so you don't miss the “Oh, God, I like Celine Dion” anecdote.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Magen

    As a professor myself (Gasser has a PhD), you might surmise that I have a lot of patience for reading dense tomes of dry subjects. This book, intended for popular consumption, should not be one of those. I don't know who this book is for. The people who would be interested in this book probably have some kind of affluent, upper middle class, post graduate education which included--at some point in their lives--some kind of rudimentary musical education, rendering Gasser's Music 1010 class unneces As a professor myself (Gasser has a PhD), you might surmise that I have a lot of patience for reading dense tomes of dry subjects. This book, intended for popular consumption, should not be one of those. I don't know who this book is for. The people who would be interested in this book probably have some kind of affluent, upper middle class, post graduate education which included--at some point in their lives--some kind of rudimentary musical education, rendering Gasser's Music 1010 class unnecessary. The people he writes for are people he assumes have never gone to a traditional four year school, never been musical, and might actually benefit from a Music 1010 class (only they wouldn't pass, because he somehow fails to define all his terms in a book that is about nothing but defining terms). These people aren't bloody interested in this book anyway because it's too long, too technical, and downright boring. The worst of it is that Gasser acknowledges this over and over and over. WHY WOULD YOU WRITE THIS IF YOU KNOW NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR IT?! This is one of those topics that you'd expect an expert to write an editorial on for a popular magazine and then turn into a 250 page book. That would work. The summary of Pandora's development was unnecessary. The thoroughness of music theory introduction, music history, and ethnomusicology are relevant but overwhelming. I listened to the audiobook on double speed which still took 20 HOURS to do. Don't waste your time on this book. The answer to the question of why you like what music you like has been answered so many times that it's Googleable.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marian

    I put several hours into the book and decided to abort the book. I made the mistake of expecting more of a neuroscience type of a book based on the title. The approach of the book might be very valid for lots of people, but I think the author is trying to reach too many people with one very big book. A more successful product might be to discuss the Pandora experience in one book, the music genome project in simplicity for non-musicians in another book, and the more advanced aspects of the music I put several hours into the book and decided to abort the book. I made the mistake of expecting more of a neuroscience type of a book based on the title. The approach of the book might be very valid for lots of people, but I think the author is trying to reach too many people with one very big book. A more successful product might be to discuss the Pandora experience in one book, the music genome project in simplicity for non-musicians in another book, and the more advanced aspects of the music genome project in a third book. Because of the length of the book, I decided to spend my efforts elsewhere. I also would recommend a professional reader for the book for Audible. For me, the sad tones in Nolan Gasser's voice worked against my listening pleasure. I am rating this book 3 stars because I do think the title is misleading, the book is too long, and the attempt to reach everyone in one book is too ambitious. I really wanted to love this book, but I do not think that I would learn "Why I Like What I Like," any better by continuing the reading.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Amy Bruestle

    I was given this book in exchange for an honest review I had a really hard time with this. Although the idea and premise of it I found to be super interesting, i just couldn’t keep reading. I found myself daydreaming as i was following along reading. Sorry!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Megan Richardson

    DNF so no rating. It was a bit too textbooky for me. The author says in the introduction that people shouldn't judge other people by their taste in music, but then is the most *pretentious* person on the planet. I would have kept going if it had been maybe half the size. DNF so no rating. It was a bit too textbooky for me. The author says in the introduction that people shouldn't judge other people by their taste in music, but then is the most *pretentious* person on the planet. I would have kept going if it had been maybe half the size.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Konet

    I skimmed some parts and read throughly other parts of this book because it was super chunky. I didn’t skim much but what I did was because it was too heavily worded at times. The mix of psychology and music was quite amusing and it tickled my neediness so nicely. Definitely a different perspective and why so many people argue about musical taste. Well written and only a few dull parts and don’t let the size of this book scare you because overall it was great and informative.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Maire

    while this is clearly a text book, my failed music major brain really enjoyed it

  18. 5 out of 5

    David McArthur

    The second I saw this book on the shelf I wanted to read it. The question why I like the music I like has always fascinated me and I envisioned getting the answer here. I should have been forewarned. The author helped create the Music Genome Project on Pandora. Back in the pre-social media, pre-app days of the internet, I discovered Pandora using a website called Stumbleupon. I don’t know whether that site still exists, but at the time it was a great way to find cool websites that were related t The second I saw this book on the shelf I wanted to read it. The question why I like the music I like has always fascinated me and I envisioned getting the answer here. I should have been forewarned. The author helped create the Music Genome Project on Pandora. Back in the pre-social media, pre-app days of the internet, I discovered Pandora using a website called Stumbleupon. I don’t know whether that site still exists, but at the time it was a great way to find cool websites that were related to my interests. I had a dreadfully dull job and needed to kill time. I was excited to discover Pandora because at the time it was billed not as a music streaming service alone, but as having a scientific process that would break down your tastes and recommend things based on the attributes of your songs. My first few forays were very disappointing. I was recommended songs that used techniques like ostinato or had major chords. These were true statements about the songs I liked, but what I found was that the entire cultural, personal, and psychological experience of a song was more important than the technical facts about its composition. The recommendations weren’t appealing. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised that Why You Like It wasn’t what I had hoped for. The first 300 pages read like a textbook on music theory, a fairly entertaining textbook, but a textbook, nonetheless. The technical terms came fast and furious and as soon as they were introduced, sometimes as many as a dozen on a page, they started getting used in the book. This may have been a good explanation of music theory, but it was too dense for the light reading I was planning to do. I brought the book along with me on my trip to Alaska (at 600 pages it wasn’t a good choice for travel), and while I planned to be learning from it, I did not want to pause and take notes as I went. Thus, I was quickly swamped in sentences like “the distinction normally concerns the disposition of eighth notes within a 4/4 or ¾ meter”. I’m sure many people with a musical background understand what this means, but for me as a reader breezing through a book on music, I began to skip these types of sentences. I wasn’t getting anything out of them. At one point, Gasser says, “in part this is a reflection of my confidence in your ability to process formal schemes.” Considering that I barely know how to parse this as an English sentence, I think that confidence was misplaced. Perhaps a book is a bad place to learn about time in music, or perhaps I could have gleaned more if I had treated the book like a textbook, but that wasn’t what I was there for. Which brings up another point. This book is filled with written music, which I can’t read and get almost nothing out of. Again, it’s just not the kind of time I was willing to invest. I would not recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t read music, at least not anyone with my completist mentality. It irks me to just leaf past pages that I can’t understand in much the same way I hate to skip equations in a book on science, but that was my only choice. That was at least, until I started using a Spotify as a companion to the book. When I had the time and the inclination, I played whatever song was being referenced. I still didn’t understand the music theory points being made, but at least I learned a few new pieces while I was reading. Halfway in, I began to enjoy the book a great deal more. Once the music theory bit was over, the author began a discussion of genres, why people like them, and gave the kind of information about the artists that I had really been looking for. I thought it was illuminating how honest the author was about the problems of classifying music and defining genres. He discusses pop, rock, classical, jazz, hip-hop, electronica, and world music. I realize now that country music is conspicuously absent, and that highlights the difficulties of classifying any music into any of these genres. What would count as country? Taylor Swift is discussed as pop, which seems correct to me, but she could easily be country as well. Clearly “world” music is the most problematic. What does that even mean? Apparently, it encompasses everything outside the Anglo world, meaning that a singer like Edith Piaff is world music. That seems nonsensical to me. My first thought was that it would mean things like gamelan or classical Indian that have completely different rules from western music. Instead, it seems to be a completely worthless category that captures almost every form of music on planet earth. When Sting has an Algerian singer back him on “Desert Rose” does that suddenly make it “world” music even though the song is completely western in every way? In fairness, Gasser does discuss this, but it really stuck in my craw regardless. Honestly, when it comes to musical taste, I think the book would have been much better served to have just talked about popular music. I may be outing myself as a philistine here but are there really non-musicians whose taste extends to things like jazz and classical? I listen to those and get some pleasure out of them, but I mostly do it to edify myself and because those genres are less distracting while I’m working. Don’t most people have those kinds of reasons for listening to non-pop music? I don’t know, but if I have my druthers and the music is the point, that’s all I listen to. The final chapters of the book focused on the sorts of things I really came in looking for. Finally, there was a mention of the personal psychological connections we form with music. In my untutored opinion, this is what really determines what we like, and that is the reason why the music genome project felt so lacking to me. How can a computer take a song you like because you listened to it on your first date with your wife and suggest something with a similar emotional valence? It’s impossible. Still, I wish the book had gone into greater detail about the locus of personality and musical taste. Gasser touched on it at the end and left it mostly unexplored. That would have been fascinating even if I don’t put much stock in personality type testing of any kind. My overall take on Why You Like it is that there are two ways to approach and enjoy this book. One way, which I think would be rewarding, is to get out a pad and pen, take notes, and treat this like a textbook or a class on music theory. You’ll learn a ton. But if you don’t have that level of investment, read it like you would read a particularly wooly popular science book. Don’t expect to understand everything, soak in what you can and don’t stress about what you don’t. While my read was a bit of slog, I did come out with a lot more musical knowledge than I started with. Of course, my baseline was pretty low to begin with.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    An intense book that goes way in depth on the subject. Not for the novice (I think) but those really into music theory will learn a lot in my opinion.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    I picked this up at the library on a whim, even given how thick it is. I'm a music buff (but not a trained musician or vocalist) and I thought I'd see if this offered up anything cool. It very quickly became clear this was not what I thought it was going to be. But by then, I just wanted to make a point and read the whole thing. And then when the world turned upside down, I really had nothing better to do. It became a challenge. Look, there were some pros. Obviously, this guy knows his stuff. He m I picked this up at the library on a whim, even given how thick it is. I'm a music buff (but not a trained musician or vocalist) and I thought I'd see if this offered up anything cool. It very quickly became clear this was not what I thought it was going to be. But by then, I just wanted to make a point and read the whole thing. And then when the world turned upside down, I really had nothing better to do. It became a challenge. Look, there were some pros. Obviously, this guy knows his stuff. He made the freaking music genome that Pandora uses. He explained some really interesting things about how if you like X, you probably like Y, but you may not like Z because of the harmonies or whatever. And even his dives into the science realms, to talk about how humans evolved to enjoy music, were interesting. It's just that a vast majority of the book is jargon. He tries to explain all these music theory things, like triads and rhythms and chord progressions and it was all way over my head. In the beginning, I tried to diligently follow along. By the end, I was skipping entire pages because I knew by then he was just going to geek out over Beethoven's use of something. I absorbed very little of it. Just skip all the beginning stuff. Just go straight to the genomes. It's what you probably picked up the book for anyway.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    this book is just too long and too complicated. It starts out pretty well as he talks about his career trajectory (part of the development of Pandora) and then talking about the components of music - melody, harmony and rhythm. A huge advantage in listening to the audiobook is the musical clips spread all the way through to illustrate whatever concept the author is talking about. This is also helpful in his development of proto-fans for pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, electronica, world music and clas this book is just too long and too complicated. It starts out pretty well as he talks about his career trajectory (part of the development of Pandora) and then talking about the components of music - melody, harmony and rhythm. A huge advantage in listening to the audiobook is the musical clips spread all the way through to illustrate whatever concept the author is talking about. This is also helpful in his development of proto-fans for pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, electronica, world music and classical. I don't know much of this music or even these concepts (I guess I haven't learned enough theory at my piano lessons!). But it gets way too complicated and technical and he reads really slowly. This might be fine for complicated concepts but not so fine when rattling off the universities at which one can learn music therapy (I'm fascinated by music therapy - it's cool). Gasser can be quite charming when he talks about his childhood dispute with his best friend about whether Queen was the best band in the world or Kiss (well, that's obvious, right?!) and even when he admits he might be mispronouncing all those world music artists. But he reads too slow and it's 37 hours! It gets to be all too much.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Em

    In reading this book, I got the feeling Gasser bit off more than he could chew and never really figured out who exactly his audience was. As others have said about the book: the author drops disclaimers multiple times throughout each chapter, recognizing that he may have gone overboard with explaining musical terminology, history and the science of music and that the reader is probably bored or confused. He even give readers the green light to skip chapters if it’s too much. An author shouldn’t In reading this book, I got the feeling Gasser bit off more than he could chew and never really figured out who exactly his audience was. As others have said about the book: the author drops disclaimers multiple times throughout each chapter, recognizing that he may have gone overboard with explaining musical terminology, history and the science of music and that the reader is probably bored or confused. He even give readers the green light to skip chapters if it’s too much. An author shouldn’t have to do that if what he’s written is clear, relevant and interesting. Ultimately, Gasser does little to actually answer the question posed by his title, rather spending more time explaining why humans as a species are wired to like music.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Waldo

    Gasser claims to shed insight on music tastes, but I didn't think the genres and genotypes idea was very relatable since I listen to music from multiple genres. Plus I only recognized two of the songs on his list. I've taken basic harmony and was in bands through high school and skimming over the theory sections I am pretty sure nobody with no music theory knowledge could have made sense of this book. Plus the writing style is kind of longwinded, and the musical notation isn't printed in a very h Gasser claims to shed insight on music tastes, but I didn't think the genres and genotypes idea was very relatable since I listen to music from multiple genres. Plus I only recognized two of the songs on his list. I've taken basic harmony and was in bands through high school and skimming over the theory sections I am pretty sure nobody with no music theory knowledge could have made sense of this book. Plus the writing style is kind of longwinded, and the musical notation isn't printed in a very high resolution (which irks me). Plus: Hey, now I know the chord progression for an Eminem song.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Feng Ouyang

    Former "chief musicologist" of Pandora Nolan Gasser explores an important question in this book: how to understand and predict our music taste. Gasser uses genetics as a metaphor for the discussion. He first listed the five music characteristics: melody, harmony, rhythm, form, and sound. He talked about how these music characteristics evolve over time and vary with culture and how they affect whether one likes or dislikes particular music works. The author then describes several "genotypes" or spe Former "chief musicologist" of Pandora Nolan Gasser explores an important question in this book: how to understand and predict our music taste. Gasser uses genetics as a metaphor for the discussion. He first listed the five music characteristics: melody, harmony, rhythm, form, and sound. He talked about how these music characteristics evolve over time and vary with culture and how they affect whether one likes or dislikes particular music works. The author then describes several "genotypes" or species of music consumers: pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, electronica, and classical. In this part, the author introduces general descriptions of the types of music in terms of the five characteristics and describes a number of representative works that the music genotype might like. The author also discusses how such a genotype might like other works and how they can broaden their tastes. The related playlists (from Pandora) are provided on the author's website. Interlaced in the book is another thread discussing music tastes in general. How are music tastes related to our biological and cultural foundations? What neural activities are involved when we enjoy (or not enjoy) music? Are our music tastes related to our personalities in general? In this part, there are many open questions and personal opinions but fewer conclusions. However, the discussions are fascinating. The author repeatedly states that music tastes should not be classified based on genre because works in different genres may share the same characteristics (rhythm, form, etc.) and thus occupy the same space in the music taste spectrum. However, perhaps inevitably, most discussions in the book are still organized by genre, as the names of the "genotypes" imply. On the other hand, the book does provide broad coverage of many genres, which is valuable for non-experts. Especially, the book provides an excellent introduction to modern music. Some dismiss modern music as appealing to physiological reactions and thus less intellectual than classical ones. The author describes the various innovations in modern music forms in detail, especially in rhythm, harmony, and scales that support the melody (if any). It conveys the message that modern music is more sophisticated and diversified, a space worth exploring. The author shares his great enthusiasm and broad knowledge of the subjects he discussed in the book. Many parts of the book are conversational, where the author shares his own experiences as a child loving music and as a professional composer, musicologist, and music researcher. However, the language style of the book is akin to academic works. The vocabulary is not conversational, and the sentence structures are not straightforward. While it is nothing wrong, such a style does not match well the book's purpose and intended audience (music lovers without professional training). The book's organization seems to expect the readers to go back and forth instead of reading it in one pass. For example, in discussing each "genotype" of music lovers, the book lists five works that the hypothetical person would like. It then goes to some details in introducing the authors and works listed. It then summarizes the commonalities of the work that characterizes the music lover in question and pointed out other works that he or she might like. The problem is that when reading about the work descriptions, the reader is not clear on what to grasp, as the discussion spans over history, related culture, and some music characteristics such as rhythm and form. After reading about the commonalities, the reader probably should go back and reread the work descriptions, using the commonality as guidance. Such a structure is adequate for sophisticated books. However, for an audiobook, it is difficult to go back and forth. Therefore, an audiobook reader may not get the full benefit. The advantage of the audiobook version is that it includes many soundtracks of the discussed music. They are presented as scores in the printed version. The scores and soundtracks are also available on the author's web page. My regret is that most of the examples are too short, only a few measures. It is hard to get the author's message when listening to these short snippets. I wish the author could provide more extended examples on his website. Overall, this book is an excellent exploration but not mature work. It can serve as a starting point for a fascinating question: how do we understand music at a rational level? How does such understanding help us enjoy and benefit more from the vast music available to us in this information age?

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    'Why You Like It' is a heavy lift. It's a bit scattershot. I'm not entirely sure whom it's for. It's a heavy lift because, hey, it's a 39-hour audiobook (720-page hardcover) about music theory. It's a bit scattershot because it seems like four different books crammed into one. I'm not entirely sure whom it's for because I imagine that music aficionados would rather listen to 39 hours of music than 39 hours of a guy talking about music. The length part speaks for itself: this thing is a real doorst 'Why You Like It' is a heavy lift. It's a bit scattershot. I'm not entirely sure whom it's for. It's a heavy lift because, hey, it's a 39-hour audiobook (720-page hardcover) about music theory. It's a bit scattershot because it seems like four different books crammed into one. I'm not entirely sure whom it's for because I imagine that music aficionados would rather listen to 39 hours of music than 39 hours of a guy talking about music. The length part speaks for itself: this thing is a real doorstop. This is not a book you pick up if you're trying to hit some arbitrary "x books per year" type of goal. You commit to this book. 'Why You Like It' seems like four different books because it comprises four distinct sections. It begins with a lengthy section on the history of the founding and early development of the music listening and recommendation service Pandora. Author Nolan Glasser, who designed the "Music Genome Project" that serves as Pandora's backbone, hired the initial analytics team, and still maintains a relationship with the company (of which he is, clearly, very proud), is uniquely well-positioned to tell this story. I found it to be the most interesting part of the book, revealing to me that I'm fascinated by modern internet history. I want to read more of this sort of thing - about Yahoo!, eBay, Google, and so forth. The second part is an introduction to music theory. This section broke me: I couldn't f0llow it, it made me feel like I'm musically hopeless, and it nearly led me to give up on the book. The third section explored the "taste profiles" of various subjects, seeking to illustrate the connections among the various titles a given listener might choose over the course of a day. It devolved, however, into a series of biographies of various musicians and composers. It felt like filler in an already overstuffed book. The fourth, and final, section actually gets into "why you like it." Spoilers: you like the music you like due to a combination of your unique nature and nurture. Instead of listening to this very long audiobook, I'd have preferred to read a pair of short features on the founding of Pandora and the actual "why you like it" part of 'Why You Like It.' As I wrote earlier, I'm not entirely sure whom this book is for. While the author assumes a degree of musical literacy on the reader's part (a literacy in which I do not share, and in which this book has led me to believe I'm hopeless), but that reader probably already understands music theory. He assumes a deep degree of interest in music qua music, but I think people who listen to all 39 hours of 'Why You Like It' are probably more interested in the psychology of music than the music itself - otherwise, they'd spend those 39 hours listening to music. Ultimately, listening to 'Why You Like It' is like striking up a conversation with a guy at a party. He asks whether you're interested in, say, baseball. You catch the occasional game; you even have a team hat: you tell him, "Sure." He goes on to spend 39 hours explaining to you why Lewin Diaz is a better first baseman than Josh Fuentes. It's all just too much. Recommended for: musicians. I think my wife would enjoy this book. She already speaks its language.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Addie

    This was one intense book! But highly worth the read for me! This 706 page book includes an index, notes, and a glossary, but that only takes up the last 50 pages; the rest is devoted to your musical learning. The details that Nolan Gasser includes in this book are well researched, and he references everything for easy access if more information is desired. I loved all of the music that was notated in the book. And I loved the links on the website, particularly the musical Figures, which are exc This was one intense book! But highly worth the read for me! This 706 page book includes an index, notes, and a glossary, but that only takes up the last 50 pages; the rest is devoted to your musical learning. The details that Nolan Gasser includes in this book are well researched, and he references everything for easy access if more information is desired. I loved all of the music that was notated in the book. And I loved the links on the website, particularly the musical Figures, which are excerpts of musical pieces. I also really enjoyed exploring the wide array of music he presented for getting to know why I like the music that makes my heart sing, and why I despise the music that irks me! Sometimes Gasser's points get a bit repetitive, and at times his vernacular is quite verbose. (I did keep a dictionary handy...) Ultimately, the bottom line of this book is to get to know the music you listen to, and to figure out why you like it. As you go through the process of seeing the underlying details of your favorite songs, you will be led to even more music that fills your heart! And that is a journey of discovery that should never end! Music heals, is connecting, joyful, artful, exotic, pleasant, interesting, and helps us pass time more easily. Not out of assignment, but out of pure desire I chose to read this book, and I couldn't have picked a better one to make me happy!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Brian Nelson

    This book is a lot. I listened to the audiobook, and it was almost 40 hours long. Thank you 2x listening speed. It’s the most comprehensive book about music I’ve read so far, other than textbooks. It covers a lot of ground. Gasser was a large part of Pandora’s music genome project. He talks about some of the early days of Pandora and how they built their recommendation algorithm. When he talked about the job ads that Pandora was running, I actually remembered seeing those ads. I thought it sounde This book is a lot. I listened to the audiobook, and it was almost 40 hours long. Thank you 2x listening speed. It’s the most comprehensive book about music I’ve read so far, other than textbooks. It covers a lot of ground. Gasser was a large part of Pandora’s music genome project. He talks about some of the early days of Pandora and how they built their recommendation algorithm. When he talked about the job ads that Pandora was running, I actually remembered seeing those ads. I thought it sounded like a cool job, but I was kind of skeptical at the time. Gasser also gives a fairly in depth, but still pretty quick and dirty lesson on music theory. Then he goes through a number of music genres and lays out the typical characteristics of each. He goes through several popular genres, some info about sub genres, so called World Music, and classical music. He uses examples of imaginary listeners with different musical interest profiles and a sample 5 song list for each to show a good range of each genre. If you’re a casual music fan, this book probably isn’t for you. If you’re a music geek or have some interest in becoming one, give it a read/listen. 4/5

  28. 4 out of 5

    Siddhartha Banerjee

    This book does not deserve the low rating it currently has. I wish I'd read this book back when I was actively taking music lessons. It is a comprehensive overview (for the layman) of the different aspects of music with interesting side notes on other aspects of human life that influence or are influenced by music. Additionally, unlike in Bourgeois Equality (say), where I often lost sight of the bigger picture for the current narrative, this book was well structured, and Gasser was especially met This book does not deserve the low rating it currently has. I wish I'd read this book back when I was actively taking music lessons. It is a comprehensive overview (for the layman) of the different aspects of music with interesting side notes on other aspects of human life that influence or are influenced by music. Additionally, unlike in Bourgeois Equality (say), where I often lost sight of the bigger picture for the current narrative, this book was well structured, and Gasser was especially methodical about contextualizing individual points within the larger whole (which was also presented upfront). Really, my main thought while reading the book was that this is an excellent survey paper for music... (For the layman; experienced musicians might have a different opinion)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Cox

    In so many ways this book was way over my head. Nolan Gasser is brilliant, and understands music on par with composers and musical theorists. He discusses the creation of Pandora's musical genome, and tells a few stories about the companies development. That could have a been a book right there. The middle 50-60% of the book takes the reader on an extremely detailed exploration of musical theory. Being a person who struggles to clap and sing at the same time, this was deep water. After this, Gas In so many ways this book was way over my head. Nolan Gasser is brilliant, and understands music on par with composers and musical theorists. He discusses the creation of Pandora's musical genome, and tells a few stories about the companies development. That could have a been a book right there. The middle 50-60% of the book takes the reader on an extremely detailed exploration of musical theory. Being a person who struggles to clap and sing at the same time, this was deep water. After this, Gasser discusses several musical archetypes and how musical preference is broader than most of us realize. I had wanted a little more on the cognitive psych side of things, maybe some stuff about cultural conditioning and the like.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    "Hemiola" : proof formal music theory allows for arbitrary interpretation of deliberately ambiguous structure Our hearing apparatus has resolution far more detailed than the semi-tones of a piano; overtones allow us to distinctly enjoy various instruments. I could use a different approach to learning music theory. Any suggestions? Pandora playlists (USA-only?) and chapter notes and figures (with embedded mp3) found on the book's web site WhyYouLikeIt.com "Hemiola" : proof formal music theory allows for arbitrary interpretation of deliberately ambiguous structure Our hearing apparatus has resolution far more detailed than the semi-tones of a piano; overtones allow us to distinctly enjoy various instruments. I could use a different approach to learning music theory. Any suggestions? Pandora playlists (USA-only?) and chapter notes and figures (with embedded mp3) found on the book's web site WhyYouLikeIt.com

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